Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Going "Publix" with a Vegetarian Feast | Quinoa Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

If you've never taken a cooking class, you really should. I'm not talking about the department store demo.  I mean the put-on-your-apron, get-your-knife-chopping cooking class.  Just a lot of fun. And even if you're a veteran in the kitchen, you're bound to learn something.

I recently visited my daughter who lives in Tampa. It had been months since I'd seen her and it was a very sunny break from a gray winter for this Pennsylvania born and bred soul. (I think that the groundhog lied.)

One of the things we planned to do was to go to a cooking class. Our original plan was to cash in on a Groupon Amy had found for a sushi class. But our timing was bad for that so we looked elsewhere and found that the Publix supermarket offered cooking classes at one of its stores.
Grilled vegetables (eggplant, portobella mushroom, zucchini) and provolone
 got stacked between two slices of ciabbatta bread and grilled.
 (The balsamic glace kinda looks like a treble clef!)

Before I go any further, I have to tell you that my daughter did not catch any kind of cooking bug from me. When she was little she did like to make play dough with me and mix inedible things with flour and water, but she outgrew any visions of mastering anything culinary. Where did I go wrong!

So signing us up for a cooking class together was generous on her part, just to please her mother.  (Amy would have preferred the Taco Tuesday class the previous night --  booked! -- to the vegetarian class we attended. "Mom," she said, "I like meat!")

But we were very impressed with the vegetarian feast our co-chef teachers coached us through. We made a tabouleh-like quinoa salad, a grilled vegetable panini, vegetable lo mein with tofu, and for the finale, orange creme brulee, the only dish I didn't get a picture of!

The vegetable lo mein featured colorful, crisp veggies and tofu,
wonderfully fragranced with fresh ginger,
 all topped with toasted sesame seeds.

And then we sat down and ate our little feast, accompanied by our choice of wine. My carnivore daughter was impressed that the meal was hearty without meat. I liked it all, but the creme brulee was the most fun to make. And I didn't get a picture! Too bad I was too busy running my little torch to perfect my burnt sugar crust!  ("You don't have one of those, do you, Mom?" says my daughter. I know what my next present will be!)

My favorite dish was the quinoa salad. Colorful, full of texture and fresh citrus flavor. Just a lot of chopping! Great do ahead salad.  It was while making this that I learned my favorite new tip about juicing a lemon:  use your tongs! Just nestle a lemon (or lime) half between the arms of the tongs and squeeze. You don't get lemon juice on your hands and, you don't have to dirty another tool! Clever!

I wish I could take more classes there . . .  until next Florida visit! Now, without further ado . . . the salad:

Incan Quinoa Salad with Citrus Thyme Vinaigrette
Serves 4
Courtesy of Publix 
1 cup raw Incan quinoa
2 cups vegetable stock
3 limes, zested
4 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 yellow pepper, finely diced
3 celery stalks, finely diced
1 bunch scallions,thinly sliced
2 large ripe tomatoes, seeds removed, finely diced
1/4 red onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
For the dressing:
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped fine
2 ounces grapeseed oil
salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Place quinoa and vegetable stock in a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until all liquid is absorbed, about 10-15 minutes. When done, the grain will appear soft and translucent and the germ ring will be visible along the outside of the grain. Chill immediately  Meanwhile, chop the vegetables, prepare the juice and zest.

Prepare the dressing: In a small bowl, combine the citrus juices, garlic and thyme and then slowly drizzle in the oil while constantly whisking. Taste for seasoning.

Toss the vinaigrette with the quinoa mixture to coat evenly. Allow at least 10 to 15 minutes for the flavors to blend.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Secret -- and Cannelloni

I've been keeping a secret for a few months . . . . not a really big secret  (Like my book is coming out next month! --  I wish!)

It's just a little secret . . . . I've been teaching a neighbor boy how to cook.  He just turned 8, but he was 7 when we started last summer. Every two weeks, he comes to my house after school and we cook together for a couple hours in my little kitchen.  And we have a ball.

At first, we were both a little tentative, but before long we were acting every bit the grandmother and grandkid we looked like together. We joke some, I nod approvingly when he measures correctly, he teases. We cook good stuff and we have good fun.

Wyatt  loves to bake. And although baking's not my strongest suit in the kitchen, I can definitely handle the basics. (We won't be making puff pastry anytime soon.) The biggest plus about baking with a child, for me anyhow,  is that, for the most part, knives aren't involved  Soon enough for that. For now, if we need to chop something -- like onions for meatballs -- we use my mini-chopper.

We have made a variety of great food -- cupcakes, cookies, meatballs, breaded chicken, pizza, Oreo truffles. Our goal is usually to make something he can take home for dinner that he made as well as a dessert or a treat he can share with friends at school the next day. And something that's manageable in under two hours.

The breaded chicken was different to me.  I learned his mother was gluten-free and we tried something she steered me to: using crushed rice Chex cereal as the coating. It was great!

We've had a couple minor accidents: He dropped an egg on the floor;  I dropped a tray of just baked cookies. Once, while cleaning up, he pretty much sprayed my window above the sink as much as the dishes.

I wasn't looking for a cooking student. It was his mother's idea. She knew I had been a teacher, that I wrote a food column for the local paper, and that I had this blog. And I was nearby.

And her son likes to cook.  She reasoned that her older son was taking music lessons and golf lessons. Why not find a teacher for what her middle son liked to do? Makes perfect sense. Although she herself likes to cook, she has a job, two other kids and this little arrangement provides her son something that's just for him. I'm impressed by her original thinking.

One of the main dishes we made was stuffed shells.  We stuffed the shells with a sausage and cheese fiilling using a recipe from Sticky, Gooey, Creamy.

There was plenty of filling for two dozen stuffed shells. And we didn't scrimp on stuffing them either. So I was left with filling and no shells. So the next day, I made crepes and we had cannelloni instead.  Same filling, different container.

Sausage and Cheese Cannelloni
adapted from Sticky, Gooey, Creamy

1 dozen crepes* (click here for my recipe)
1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
16-ounces whole milk ricotta
2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons minced, fresh, flat-leaf parsley
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
4 cups prepared marinara sauce, homemade or jarred

Preheat oven to 375 F.  
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Crumble the sausage into the skillet and fry until lightly browned.  Using a wooden spoon, break the meat into small bits as it cooks.  
Combine cooked sausage, ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, 1/2 cup Parmesan, eggs, parsley, salt and pepper together in a large bowl and mix well.
Pour enough marinara sauce in a 9×13 baking dish to cover the bottom of the dish, about 1 1/2 cups.  Place about 2 tablespoons of filling down the middle of each crepe. Fold the side over and place, seam side down, on top of the sauce.  Ladle the rest of the marinara on top.  Sprinkle with the rest of the mozzarella and Parmesan, cover with foil and bake until bubbly, about 30-35 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is gooey and melted and begins to brown.  Remove and let stand about 10 minutes before serving.

* Crepes are time consuming and are a definite "do-ahead" in my book. You can make them the day before, keep them separated by squares of waxed paper, and place in the fridge. Or you can stack them and store them (again, separated by waxed paper) in the freezer for up to 3 months. Just thaw some before using.